London International Mime Festival, 10 January to 3 February, 2018

Meral Harmancı*

London International Mime Festival has been held since 1977. Despite the word “mime” in its title, it is a festival introducing not only some of the best mime works, but also other innovative examples of physical and visual theatre.

Silke Hundertmark as a doll (robot woman) helping masters (Reinier Schimmel and Jakop Ahlbom) with the daily work. The band members of Alamo Race Track can be seen at the back with their costumes in the wallpaper design. Lebensraum, Jakop Ahlbom Company and Alamo Race Track. Photo Stephan van Hesteren and Matusi

Jakop Ahlbom Company from the Netherlands was named together with the indie band Alamo Race Track, as the band was not only playing the music live, but also adding its spice and zest to the show by being actively involved in the play. Lebensraum was inspired by Buster Keaton’s The Scarecrow, which is a silent movie masterpiece. However, it can be also traced back to some other inspirational works such as Metropolis (1927), Humans (2015), Frankenstein (1818) and Alfred Jarry (Norman 2018).[1] The play is about the life of two inventors sharing the same house in a convenient way. The furniture in the room is multifunctional. The bed can be turned into a piano, the bookcase can be used as a fridge, and even the equipment can be moved in the room with the help of hanging strings. However, the story unfolds when they decide to create a female companion in order for her to help them with the housework, and, as a result, chaos ensues.

Jakop Ahlbom and Reinier Schimmel build the characters so expertly that the audience can see their friendship and compatibility as well as sense the contradictory points and hidden antagonism between them (Philpott 2018).[2] Playing the role of the robot woman, Silke Hundertmark resembles a real robot. She is very concentrated on her lifeless doll character and its automatic intelligence. She gives a strong physical performance with mechanical body forms and flexible body movements, such as rolling over, jumping out of the window and falling down on the stage. Physicality forms the basis of acting in this performance. As the Swedish-born director, Jakop Ahlbom, is also an acrobat, he is able to push the limits of his body. The mutual trust between the performers and their strong physical capabilities contribute to the humorous, surreal taste of the play as they attempt to complete housekeeping tasks.

At the very beginning of the performance, one of the performers of 300 El X 50 El X 30 El is lying in his bed in his room and it is reflected on a projection screen by a live camera. Photo Toneelhuis/FC Bergman, Creative Team, 2011

The second work is from the Belgium company FC Bergman. Their non-verbal play called 300 El X 50 El X 30 El refers to Noah’s arc not only with its title, resembling the dimension of the vessel, but also with the existence of a flood threat. The play is about a group of people living in the same village sensing the coming disaster.

The set shows only the outside of the village houses. Internal views are achieved using a live camera operated by three crew members moving around the set on a small railed platform. This view is projected onto an overhead screen, offering spectators a unique insight into the lives of the occupants. Towards the end of the play, the camera turns to the spectators and adds their presence to the semantic stratum of the play.

People’s despair, hopes, desires, fight for survival, failures and search for meaning, are presented in a humorous way. The characters show the audience the nonsense of human life. The absurdity of each individual life causes the audience to feel both laughter and a strange pain of self-recognition. Without criticizing governments or states, it confronts the audience with the fact underlining how social construction is held together by unwritten laws, how each individual blocks the one who wants to make a change and how hope can be possible. With the cast consisting of thirteen performers, the way the performance narrates itself and its music pieces chosen from the works of musicians such as Vivaldi, The Persuasions and Nina Simone, 300 El X 50 El X 30 El was a performance making the audience face how human psychology works in both private and public arenas.

Performers Kalle Nio and Vera Selene Tegelman sitting as a couple in an imaginary scene. Lähtö/Départ, Kalle Nio, 2013. Photo Tom Hakala

Another outstanding production was the Finnish Kalle Nio/WHS’ Lähtö (Departure). It concerns the separation of a woman and a man after a complicated relationship.The traumatic side of the incident reveals a process full of memories, delusions and blurry thoughts. There are such imaginative and unbelievable images shown on stage that the performance fascinates its spectators with a poetic, bitter taste and touch related to the idea of separation. Kalle Nio also states that they intend to create an atmosphere in which exterior elements are used to express internal feelings rather than a story (Nio 2018).[3]

All components of the performance are equally impressive. The way the performance is staged builds a cinematographic impression with the visual art projections. The performance becomes mesmerizing when the magic techniques create illusions, such as making the curtains and the clothes of the performers move, mirrors levitate, and some body parts appear and disappear. Besides, the effects of all these items get stronger with Samuli Kosminen’s music.

The London International Mime Festival 2018 had other important productions, such as the Belgian company Peeping Tom’s 2015 Oliver Award Winner Moeder (Mother), reviewed in Critical Stages issue 16 by Aikaterini Delikonstantinidou (see here). L’ Insolite Mécanique’s Lift Off as an example of mechanical theatre, Nacho Flores’ Tesseract and Compagnie MPTA’s Santa Madera were other impressive physical works from France. Besides, Trygve Wakenshaw and Barnie Duncan’s Different Party, from New Zealand, works of British companies Gandini Juggling and Vamos Theatre, a touching Mexican wedding Perhaps, Perhaps, Quizấs, from Gabriela Muñoz, Fauna as a combination of circus and physical theatre were included in the quality performance list of the festival.

Video

Notes

[1] Norman, Neil. Feb 2, 2018. ”Jakop Ahlbom Company: Lebensraum review at Peacock Theatre, London – ‘rich, strange, surreal.’” Accessed March 12, 2018.

[2] Philpott, Maryam. Feb 2, 2018. Lebensraum – Peacock Theatre, London. Accessed March 12, 2018.

[3] Nio, Kalle. 2018. Kalle Nio, magician and visual artist, WHS: Lähtö, London International Mime Festival. Interview by Liz Arratoon. The Widow Stanton, Accessed March 20, 2018. 


*Meral Harmancı has a PhD in Theatre Criticism and Dramaturgy and she is a member of the International Association of Theatre Critics. Her PhD study concerned the first female dramatists’ theatre texts between the late Ottoman period and the early years of the Republic of Turkey. Following her BA in English Language and Literature, she has written reviews and critical papers on theatre and modern dance for Turkish art magazines and online platforms.

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